There are many things I love about being a hobbyist. One of things I hate though is talking to other people that are not hobbyists about my passion for being a hobbyist, it never translates well and I am definitely yet to master that in conversation. It tends to be a subject that I shy away from or will tactically avoid whenever possible for fear of being unfairly judged. Perception is something that I think many hobbyists struggle with and there is definitely a certain stigma that comes with the territory. I am a thirtysomething married man yet for some inexplicable reason I still feel curiously self-conscious about the whole thing. I find myself subconsciously hiding my phone when perusing the latest Forgeworld releases. I’ll almost never post anything on my main Facebook account visible to friends and family with content pertaining to hobbying. I’ll brush off any conversation about hobbying from anyone who isn’t a hobbyist as my natural paranoia is that they are trying to take the piss. If I happen to see someone I know out and about and I am carrying a model case or a GW bag I will avoid them at all costs! It’s a strange situation to be in, where you are trying to hide a significant portion of your life and interests, despite it being something that you are deeply passionate about.
This may not resonate with everyone. There are many hobbyists who have no such neuroses. They are part of a wider community of hobby die hard’s who eat, drink and breathe this stuff and fair play to them. I happen to not be one of those guys. I would consider myself to be a pretty regular guy, I have a full time job in software, I play golf, I like to socialise, I enjoy reading and writing so perhaps that makes me part of GW’s more ‘mature’ audience but that in itself brings its own challenges and it is how we deal with those challenges that will define how our much loved hobbies are perceived.
So I arrive inevitably at a conversation I had recently with my wife over dinner with friends. We were discussing how little spare time life seems to afford us at the moment despite neither couple having kids. My wife, with all good intent, raises that I happen to bear a passing interest in tabletop games. I know where this is going to go. The couple I am eating with are teachers, conservative types (not to generalise) that stick to the linear path life has set out for them – which means new ideas or alternative notions of how time could be spent are anathema to these people. Now for the hard sell….
There is one of two ways this conversation could go but what am I really trying to achieve? The other half has either set me up for a spectacular fall or has given me an opportunity to articulate why I spend so much time (and money) on tabletop games. I think herein is exactly where my problem lies.
So I can take two approaches here but I think I first need to look at what my primary objective is why it is so important to me; acceptance. It may not apply to everyone but I still find in my friendship circles that the mention of Warhammer, painting, modelling etc strikes the sort of social awkwardness normally reserved for someone who reveals a passing foot fetish in the pub. The silence that descends over the group is usually deafening. Do I have incredibly pretentious and judgemental friends? Well….maybe, but people generally tend to fear and ridicule that which they don’t understand.
And so I press on with the conversation over dinner, revealing that I do indeed spend time collecting minatures, painting them sometimes hours at a time and that I enjoy the hobby, I find it relaxing after a day in the office, I am quite a creative person and I enjoy the literature, the background, the stories…. and before I realise it my friends have THAT LOOK.
We’ve all seen it and we all know it. The look. Somewhere between disbelief and disgust as you try and explain why you do what you do. You know exactly what they are thinking; Why does a middle aged man still want to play with toy soldiers? Is there something missing from this guy’s life? This guy has too much free time. Has he got nothing better to do? The hardest bit to deal with is the disapproving look, like they pity your weird and warped interests when you could be watching TV instead.
Something then occurs to me during this conversation as I am being pepped (it was like Prime Ministers questions at this point) only I felt like I was in the dock. It occurred to me that I was trying to justify myself and that felt inherently wrong. Why am I trying to seek the approval of these people to do something I thoroughly enjoy? I then changed tactic and appealed to the other side of the hobby, the social aspect. I felt like I had made headway. Hurrrah! Then came the real kicker.
“So what does the average model cost?”
I think the cost of a hobby like 30K/40K is one of the most difficult things for a non-hobbyist to reconcile. I truly dread to think what the armies I have cost me over the past two years, a bill that more than likely runs in to the thousands of pounds. I have been playing Warhammer 40K since I was eight years old (admittedly with an 18 year hiatus in between) and returned to the hobby roughly two years ago now. I play 30K, Sigmar and a few other more random tabletop games and in that time I have bought, built and painted seven 2000 point 40K armies (and counting) and a 5000 point 30K army. Would I ever reveal the cost of that to my significant others? Would I bollocks!
“Not much. Maybe four or five quid.” I say.
Now technically this isn’t a lie. I just left out the part where I should have stated that those were the prices when I started playing in 1992. Ok, it was a lie who I am kidding.
“How many models do you have” she says. Its getting very warm in here all of a sudden.
“A few hundred….but they are of varying cost. Not all of them are four or five quid” I say.
Again not a lie. I just left out the part where almost all of them are considerably more than four or five quid.
“Wow that is so expensive” she says, like it’s a revelation. The husband chirps up.
“You could get a holiday for that”.
Fuck off Captain Spray Tan my inner daemon says immediately. This guy is browner than a three week old banana, despite it being February.
I am going to change this up. If these people are judging me, lets hear what they do that’s so much better.
“So how do you guys spend your weekday evenings?” I say, hoping for a little ammunition.
“Probably just watch Love Island”.
I cannot resist it. This is like being given 25 extra command points, or making a 12” charge. I wont bore you with the conversation from this point but rest assured I gave it both barrels.
Here is the thing I took away from this conversation and many other conversations like it. Hobbies are an inherently healthy thing to have in your life and can really help re-focus on other aspects of your life. Hobbies teach you things like discipline, teamwork and sportsmanship that you don’t get sitting in front of a TV. Warhammer specifically is similar to chess, in that it is a highly strategic, often complex but ultimately rewarding experience that is great to share in a group. Some people garden, others enjoy photography, my hobbies give me great pleasure and that’s all the justification I need.
So the lesson learned from all of this, for me, is to change my approach with people. My view is that people within the hobby in the same situation as me shouldn’t try and compartmentalise such a significant part of their lives as if it doesn’t exist. I’ve spent a long time adopting this approach and it hasn’t paid dividends and only served to feed the social stigma and negative perception of the hobby and the people within the hobby as a whole. Transparency is key and my position moving forward when asked will be to front up and tell it how it is and if this removes our societies perpetual reliance on a diet of reality TV one person at a time, then we will all be better for it.